That’s usually not the case in football—or in any sport, for that matter—but following the infamous offseason of 2006, it was the best thing that could have happened to the Crimson. And “it” came in the form of senior defensive end Brad Bagdis.
From shuttle fights and benchings to the suspension of a starting quarterback for half of the season to the most headline-grabbing disruption of them all, the dismissal of team captain Matt Thomas upon his arrest for allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend (the charges were eventually dropped in late September of 2006), the spring and summer of last year were marred by the ongoing saga of off-the-field indiscretions.
Even after Ryan Tully ’07 took over as captain for Thomas, the five-game suspension of quarterback Liam O’Hagan served as a nagging reminder of the notorious offseason for the duration of the 2006 campaign.
Fast-forward a year, however, and the culture of Harvard football seems almost to have restored itself to a pre-’06 level of normalcy. A combination of factors are to thank: Clifton Dawson’s all-time Ivy League rushing record and his signing with the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals was a feel-good on-field story for fans, O’Hagan had perhaps his best collegiate preseason and cemented himself as the starter entering his senior season, and Bagdis has re-established the year-long leadership role of the captain.
The task, according to Bagdis, hasn’t been a terribly difficult one, despite the scrutiny the position has received over the last 15 months.
“It’s great to be part of a tradition, and thus far, it’s been pretty easy, because we haven’t had any problems off the field,” Bagdis says.
Indeed, a headline-free offseason has done wonders for Bagdis in his role as captain. It’s something that many of the seniors understood and took to heart, building an unusually strong level of team chemistry over the summer.
“There may be only one captain, but I get lots of support from guys like Steve Williams, Chris Pizzotti, Liam O’Hagan, Andrew Brecher, and so many others,” Bagdis says. “They do a great deal of the work also, and thus far it’s been very well-received by myself.”
It was so well-received that 46 players decided to stay in Cambridge to continue their summer workouts with the team, twice as many as the previous summer, when the captainship was in flux and a performance at Harvard’s annual end-of-summer Skit Night resulted in the dismissal of a wide receiver low on the depth chart.
“We had a very good preseason [this year] just from the standpoint of great team chemistry,” head coach Tim Murphy says. “It’s hard to quantify it, but it really helps.”
Bagdis’ style of leadership had a lot to do with the team becoming closer.
“I think Brad has been great as a captain, simply because he leads by example,” Murphy says. “And it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of our best players.”
Bagdis is the only returning senior to a defensive line that led all of Division I-AA in sacks and tackles for a loss last year. He’ll be integral to a front that lost All-Ivy tackle Mike Berg ’07 to graduation, while a pair of defensive ends—brothers Brenton and Desmond Bryant—were both forced to take the year off for academic reasons. Sophomore Chuks Obi and juniors Sonny McCracken and Matt Curtis join Bagdis on the only defensive unit that starts a sophomore.
But it’s more than just the guidance he’ll provide to his linemates. Bagdis’ reach extends to the other side of the ball, too.
“I think he’s doing a good job,” senior receiver Corey Mazza says of Bagdis.
Mazza should know—in total, he’s seen six captains during his time with the Crimson, from Dante Balestracci ’04 as a freshman to Bagdis now.
“[He’s] keeping the team rolling, because there’s lots behind the scenes working as a captain,” Mazza says. “And he’s a firm leader, a nasty player on the field. But between the whistles, he’s a fair guy.”
It’s something that other teams have begun to notice and adjust to. In last week’s 31-28 loss to Holy Cross, Bagdis was held to two total tackles and no sacks, hardly the start expected from the anchor of the defensive unit.
But, as Mazza said, it’s what he does off the field that’s important, too. It’s that fairness, that evenhandedness, which will help rehabilitate the image of Harvard football.
“It falls upon, not just myself, but all the guys on the team,” Bagdis says. “We have a great core group of guys who give a great representation of what Harvard football is and what it carries for the future.”
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.